Photography is not an unpopular hobby by any means, but 80 years ago it was a bit more difficult to get the perfect shot than simply having the latest iPhone (13? 15X??) in hand. 80 years and a few days ago, in 1943, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a tribute to Greenpoint native and acclaimed photographer William H. Zerbe, who died soon prior, January 5, 1943.
According to Zerbe’s own account in a 1921 issue of Photo-Era Magazine: The American Journal of Photography, he started his photography journey in 1883.
“Working for a small salary, I could not afford to buy any of the amateur-outfits then on the market, so I bought a Scovill & Adams double plateholder and built a complete outfit around this,” Zerbe said of his first-ever camera purchase, influenced by his time working at Anthony Brothers photo supply shop. “The bellows was not of the accordion type, but just a plain, collapsible cone. For a lens, I bought a second-hand opera-glass, mounting one of the large lenses in a brass tube. My shutter was of the drop-shutter type, arranged so that it could be opened and closed with a string operated at a distance … The accompanying photograph, my very first, was made. The photograph shows myself and five brothers. The youngest shown in the picture is now the father of a family of six, one of whom has put in his first vote. The picture was made, to be exact, in 1883.”
Zerbe spent his career photographing New York City for a range of publications, earning himself the title of dean of newspaper photographers in New York. But his award-winning work and influential pictorial style (he experimented with albumen, platinum, oil, bromoil, gum, and carbon prints) also spanned national and international news and coverage. When he wasn’t shooting his next subject, he was doling out invaluable lessons to future photographers at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences.